Friday, 4 September 2009

I want to decide for myself which door to enter

MSN's UK portal has received much acclaim in a recent article in the Independent- and rightly so. It is is well designed, is very versatile and does pathbreaking stuff in its treatment of news. One of the best out there. But does it really give us/me what we are looking for? Is it so different from a thousand others that I would have it as my start page? The answer of course depends on who you are and whether it is versatility or tailor seam you are after.

Personally, with Google, Wiki, Free Dict and all the papers I need at my fingertips on the toolbar, my conclusion is bespoke. Versatility is the very nature of the internet and I find it a nuisance being automatically rerouted to a portal with bits and pieces from here and there. I don't want to be force fed anything. I want to decide for myself what to look at. If someone feel they must force me to look at something anyway, why can't they instead send me to a page or a portal catering to my needs?

So what am I looking for? I'm busy. Work long days. In my spare time I want to watch tv, movie on demand, I want exhibitions of interest to me, sales, information on gadgets, concerts, restaurants, discussions, a car show, sports - whatever. But what is on offer? I don't know and I don't want to waste time browsing the web to find out. Scanning Time Out and other available portals to map what is on that could interest me is just not possible. And they all come up with very general information anyway, with a bit of gossip and news thrown in for good measure. Consequently I miss most of the good opportunities.

I would like to see a site which compiles this sort of information for me from all available sources, offering thumbnails with links to dates, times and places for things I would be likely to do. And it would need to do this for me in the city where I live or in the one I am travelling to. So, when someone in Manchester or wherever has checked their hotmail they should be allowed to be sent to a page that tells them what they could do after work and what is coming up in two weeks and would interest them and which they would need to get tickets for now because there are only 50 left. There would still be room for some general gossip and news in a small section if the editor thinks this is a must. Or there could be the option of being sent to a tailored page instead of the general bric-a-brac page. You should be allowed to choose versatility, the news angle or the catering to your individual needs option.

Why can't I have a portal like this? Technically it should be easy, based on what people click on or from their actively setting up a profile. Why haven't the MS or the Google people (the thing in Chrome is nowhere near) come up with something like this? They are monitoring my mouseclicks anyway.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

iPhone iPhone on the wall ...

The equipment we use is so out of step with our needs for quick everyday problem solving. We have the internet and fantastic it-applications for everything, but to access them we are basically left with machines not much different from what they were like 30 years ago; PCs that need ages to boot and plastic keyboards to input information. A household appliance that can free us from this extremely frustrating and user hostile environment is ages overdue.

The strange thing is that Apple has sort of invented it already. It is called the iPhone. A small beauty which potential has not been fully hatched yet. Why do they hesitate?

All they need to do is give it a 20 inch touch screen to be set in or hung on a kitchen or living room wall - or anywhere - possibly integrated with an Apple TV and with good loudspeakers or interface to audio equipment.
All set up, if I want to speak to aunt Mary – or see her – I go over and press the phone symbol and then her icon. If I want to access my favourite recipies there is an icon for that. If I want to know who is the king of Jordan I may have to type it in Google or maybe say 'Google' and 'king of Jordan' to the screen. If I want to check something in The Times I press that icon and to scroll through my favourite music as nicely as only the iPhone can do it, buy it at the Apple store, listen to Spotify or Slingbox a TV show to my iPhone handset, it is all there.
The iPhone is good, but the dimensions are all wrong for practical home use and I believe an appliance like this would be a godsend to most people. No more waiting for the screen to lit up (it is always on) and no more buttons to hammer, only the occasional virtual on-screen touch.
There may be a huge office marked for this as well, but the first stop is definitely home durables.

Please do it.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Green Shoots July 2009

The US unemployment figures are soaring and Schwarzenegger and colleagues are struggling to balance their budgets. Does re-election of Obama require another stimulus package? Also the slump in the UK turns out to be much worse than expected and Germany and Sweden have severely strapped state finances and their banks are highly exposed to the east. China has been remarkably quiet for a long time.
 
Surprising that all the bad news don't affect stock markets more. Have they priced in this and that already? It could be that all these traders really are expert macroeconomists with privileged access to information on impending recovery. It could also be that they have just become immune to the massively negative flow of information, hunch down to let the next log pass and concentrate on the daily trade.
 
By contrast the recession is not much felt in Norway - yet. Interest rates have been cut and boost spending on holidays and high street goods. A new housing bubble is on its way. Swedes and Poles still swarm here to get jobs. Fiscal stimuli have already been applied generously which will give us more of the same. There is a lot of latitude in a big oil fund. Probably only pockets of unemployment, falling import prices and banks hoarding money saves us from inflation. Stawberries are as expensive as ever.
 
Of course this country should do its modest bit to get the international economy growing again, but subsidized housing? Hardly the sector with the highest imports contents. Banks should probably rather lend to businesses, but there they are as prudent as financiers elsewhere in the world.
 
So, for how long can this country maintain its own private comfort bubble?
 
Just a reminder: there is also a general election this year. 

Monday, 1 June 2009

Snout in the trough

Good governance seems to be a real scarce commodity these days and kleptocracy is probably not a phenomenon unique to Africa.

Halliburton, Iceland, politicians granting themselves exceptional pensions, purchases and sales of political favours.

History and newspapers are awash with examples, and the stories from the British Parliament show that given opportunity and lenient norms, anyone seems capable of doing it.

Incredible that the same politicians seem to believe that they are Gods gift to their country and should be allowed to stay on in office, despite abusing taxpayers' money.

Do we really want our elected representatives to become corrupted or come to regard politics as a safe lifetime job?

Did we really look for little Mugabes in the making when we elected our MPs?

If Gordon Brown really wants his constitutional reform to make a difference, he should propose a ten year limit to the time any politician can sit in Parliament.

This could set a good example for other countries as well. There is no reason to believe that politicians are any worse in the UK than elsewhere.

But it won't happen, will it?


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A Fairy Tale - or all is well that ends well.

17th of May is over and so is the Eurovision Song Contest. Sunshine and douze points.
Spring almost done and summer in the offing.
All well?
 
Well, not quite. Demand for Norwegian products is falling sharply along with prospects for the oil price. We are an open economy and without our exports we will have only fish and potatoes for dinner.
 
The stock exchange is bullish nevertheless and share prices are again being inflated by the herd.
A few investors say however they are expecting another sharp downturn soon and have withdrawn from stocks altogether.
One says he will not invest in shares till banks are nationalized and firms' credit lines restored.
When will that be with collateral asset values still falling and a huge exposure to potential losses in Eastern Europe and elsewhere?
 
The government's crisis strategy for the pension fund is to hoard stocks because they are cheap right now. Right, as long as those firms don't go bust. But what else is there to buy? Well, why not real estate in London City, which is cheap as well - and more durable than paper. Billions from the same fund are also poured into employment creation. Will it help? Against what? At best it may give us good infrastructure for the future. It cannot possibly kickstart Norwegian industries in this global desert of recession. The rest of the world is already stopping buying our products and as we are only 4.7 million (well fed) people in this country, developing new national markets the Chinese way is no option. And do we really want to buy whale meat, oil drills and aluminium wheel rims from one another?
 
Much higher unemployment figures are unavoidable - but not before the general elections please.
 
Hope they save a tiny bit for my pension.
 
 
 

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

But Krugman was not dead

Behold! Paul Krugman is in circulation again. His NYT column is flowing over with comments from concerned followers suspecting he was fed into submission or food poisoned at the White House dinner party. Messages from Beijing tell he survived and is as critical of the Obama rescue packages as ever. Good to see him back. Good to see he is still bent on saving us from a "Japanese slump".

Oslo is sunny and until further our only worry here is whether it will last.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Springtime in Winter Wonderland

May is happening in Norway. Nature simply exploded when the snow went away. In the land of the Winter God winter lasts 5 months. Plants have very little time to grow, florish and set fruit before the next snowfall. They know how to use it.

In the meantime the economic crisis disappeared from front pages. Struggling papers found that swine flu was a better life saver than the economic crisis. It was set to kill millions of us. Unfortunately it seems to peter away all too soon. Flu and crisis gone, what is there left to secure the future of the press? Just Gordon Brown, car bombs and philosophers who don't like gays?

Is a bullish Wall Street and ditto housing market really a sign of recovery?
Or are US banks still heavily stressed, European banks still heavily exposed to losses in Eastern Europe and are the rotten loans still there?
Optimism is well and good but is there really reason to declare victory already?

Whatever, rotten loans and viruses seem to make pretty good compost for the spring flowers.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Aid euthanasia?

Good show by "Dead Aid" Dambisa Moyo in Oslo the other day.
Her cure may not be adequate but the aggression she is met with by the donor community proves she has got a point.
And counter arguments are less than adequate. If we agree that showering African leaders with aid money spawns corruption and relieve them of the onus of being accountable to their own people it does not help to argue for more aid to build well functioning states with accountable leaders. If there ever was a Catch 22....
And by the way, who are we? Why are African leaders not more active themselves in solving their problems? Why do the mzungu think they need to coerce the people on the Equator to do the right thing? What is the right thing anyway?
Aid is not Dead, but what about euthanasia?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Dollar traps and thaw

Snow has almost gone now and stockmarkets rally - in some places. But does this mean that the global economic outlook is also improving? Traders have always had a great capacity for turning gloomy depressison into exalted optimism (and back) in the course of minutes. Journalists are quick to follow suit. But mania does not mean that danger is over. Admittedly the pre-easter G20 did emit positive sounds but as Krugman suggests in "China's dollar trap", "... the crisis probably still has years to run".
 
Could it be that the Winter God's finger in all this is less significant than assumed and that the corellation between frost and recession is overstated?
This really needs to be discussed with this Italian scientist who established the link between camping trips and earthquakes.
 
 

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Retreat of the winter god

It is thawing like mad. Seems to have had a good effect on G20. Brighter times in sight? Hopefully in people's minds. There is perhaps still a way to go till banks are viable again.
No quick fixes but this time even Krugman sees light at the end of the tunnel.
Sunny day too.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Slump in winter resorts?

Geilo is deserted pre Easter. Strange. Windy.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

What fascinating times we live in

Gordon Brown, PM of the country on the brink of deflation trying to squeeze more fiscal stimulus out of reluctant G20 partners while his CB governor and Chancellor say the UK is so indebted it can't afford more of it. Oops, Gordon took the hint.
Paul Krugman saying the Geithner Toxic Assets Demolition Plan solves nothing at all. Just subsidies to those who don't need them. Summers disagreeing. For how long?
(Hempton has got his own touch on saving the world: Bronte Capital: Paul Krugman’s false logical step. Not so much disagreeing as making a nerdy point.)

Could the world economy collapse because the US Congress cannot bear even 6 months of government managed banks and because Merkel and Sarkozy think they have done enough? It was someone else's fault anyway wasn't it?

Hopefully this is just a reality show and we are back in real life soon.

Snow has started falling again. It is March and minus 5C out there.

Friday, 20 March 2009

More snow coming

March. Thought spring had come at last, but no. Snow is forecast.

Also the IMF has just come out with a new prognosis for the world economy saying that things are not getting better till rich countries get their financial systems in order. Rotten equities and loans need to be taken due care of and banks recapitalized. If we all do the right things in concert and abstain from protectionism there could be improvement by the end of 2010 they say.
They may be right, but in a political world the prospects for that are not bright.

So to lighten up my own day I finally got myself an Omnia - not the HD, but this one does almost everything you ask of it.

Got to go wax my skis now.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Spring is here - at least in London

Hardly more 'House for sale' signs to be seen than ususal. In these for England so trying times you would expect a veritable forest of them here in London SW. But people don't bother any more they say. So hard to sell it is better to wait it out. For how long though?

More upbeat in the US where AIG employees are still due to receive huge bonuses. Contractual obligations? The recession could become even deeper if they don't get the extra millions to spend. But on the other hand, does it really help increasing the consumption of bank account numbers in Jersey?

Daffodils are already out here. The theory may have to be seasonally adjusted.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Risk takers' day

Yesterday the governor of the central bank of Norway confirmed that over the last 6 months more than 120 billion US$ of the Norwegian Oil Fund savings have been lost on Wall Street. This is more than a quarter of the money that should compensate for pension payments that an ageing workforce cannot support. Active fund management – fund managers picking "winners" like Lehman Brothers – has exacerbated the loss. If they had abstained from this and followed the indexes, we would have been almost 10 billion US$ better off today. Admittedly it is mostly paper losses for now, but given better times it will take many decades just to regain them.

The governor also confirmed that over the years the fund has been miserably managed. Since its inception in 1998 the annual real return rate on the capital has been only 1 per cent. Had managers stuck to the Treasury's benchmark portfolio, return would probably have come closer to the target of 4 per cent per year and passive management of bond could have delivered 6 pct.

Too high a proportion of shares is probably to blame. The bond part of the portfolio lost only 0.5 pct in value while shares lost 40 pct. For good measure a new strategy proposed by fund managers and agreed by Parliament before the meltdown is now being implemented to increase the proportion of shares in the fund from 40 to 60 pct. Higher risk exposure is exactly what we need!

According to the central bank governor there are not many places beside shares to invest for a fund this size and in the long run it is always lucrative to own a big part of the world's industries.

Well, some of them could actually go bust, and in the long run, as J.M. Keynes said, we are all dead.

It is not thawing yet.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Icy tracks

It had to happen. The Norwegian Pension Fund – based on oil revenues, managed by the Central Bank and invested in shares and bonds abroad – has by now incurred losses in excess of its accumulated earnings since 1998. Since last year 60,000 US$ has gone down the drain of every Norwegian household! Admittedly we still have the shares, but how many of the companies invested in are guaranteed against going bust?

When the fund was set up share prices were soaring and portfolio investment seemed a good idea. Some maintained that more of it should be put into infrastructure and real estate. Building roads for instance, buying up the Borough of Chelsea like the Arabs did or purchasing a Canary Island. No one really knew what the best alternative would be. Portfolio investment looked good. It was what all other funds did and so we did it too. And we did it in an ethical way. No investment in tobacco, child labour or shady regimes. On hindsight it would probably have been more lucrative to keep the money in the bank – albeit not one of the Icelandic ones.

The petroleum fund has been very important to Norway. It freed us from external debt, made people feel they could afford to stay out of the EU and it provided mental insulation against the crisis. As it now shrinks, the oil price falls, new offshore fields become less viable, sub contractors go out of business and firms tumble all over the place that feeling may wane. Perhaps it is time to rethink the fund’s investment strategy? It seems that Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Johnnie Walker, Camel and Hustler are the best slump business opportunities.

What we really need now is a new gadget to turn gloomy sentiments into optimism. Samsung is due to put its new HD phone on the shelves soon. That might help. Also a ski trip is called for, although most of the new snow that came over the week end has melted. But not to worry, a new batch is due on Thursday.

Just beware of the risk of sliding down the icy tracks.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Recovery setback

Another 20 cm of snow showelled down today. No quantitative easing on that front and hence, no crisis recovery any time soon.

Newly fallen snow around O°C is also not the easiest basis to ski on. Backwards slippery cross country skis are a real pain. I enjoyed it for 5 km today only to learn that the inn in the woods was out of sour cream and raspberry jam waffles. No hobbits spotted either and no moose. Nice to be out though, and slipping the 5 km back most certainly benefitted my arm strenght.

Did you know that Norway spent 14 pct of last year's gdp on loans to banks and other crisis management? According to the IMF only UK spent more.

Not a word on how this will affect my pension.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Does aid work?

Does development assistance work? Of course it does. It works excellently for the 50000+ western aid employees who's paychecks depend on it. It works well for an equal number of politicians and government officials in developing countries who can line their pockets with it. It works for a much larger number of NGO employees who get most of their funding from western state budgets. It works fine for the producers of Toyota Land Cruisers, for satellite phone makers, American corn farmers, producers of solar panels, air freighters, consultancy firms, the academia, conference speakers and hotel owners. In short, it keeps the big aid industry running.

But what about Africa's poor? Does it work for them too? Occasionally. There is food for the hungry and vaccines for the children. But growth and prosperity promised by Western aid projects since the 1950ies are difficult to spot. The snows of Kilimanjaro are thawing but the number of poor does not fall.

Which is a good thing if you take a cynical view. Obviously aid cannot exist for long without the "bottom billion" as its customer base. Eradicating poverty is aid's #1 "production target". Achieving it however would mean undermining the livelihoods of an army of aid workers. They would need to find something else, probably less personally rewarding, to do. Luckily therefore, the industry's foremost sign of success being its own extinction, it has hitherto failed excellently.
The aid industry may also be a bit like a religion or church, with deities, rituals and clergy. There could even be something for the Winter God in it.
Apart from other things, a dollar a day may help clean an expatriate's swimmingpool.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Snows on Kilimanjaro

Last night thawing continued and snow rumbled off the roof. Also stock exchanges rose, oil prices increased, Germans bought new cars as never before and Gordon Brown got standing ovations for advising the US Congress on free trade.

My climate-business cycle theory that come spring good times will roll again, seems well supported by this and I think the carpet of white snow on the ground this morning should be put down to statistical error.

It has however been suggested that the theory may not adequately explain the situation south of Sahara. There is snow on the Kilimanjaro, it has been thawing for a while but poverty stricken Africans have seen little improvement and the slump is worsening their livelihoods. More research is needed but the model should perhaps also take more explicitly into account the annual avalanche of development aid. It should not be ruled out that it may have corrupted the ways of some governments. I'll come back to this.

In the meantime: How many Icelandic investment bankers does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Just one, but it really gets screwed.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Mailblog

Help is on the way. It is thawing out there.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Revenge of The Winter God

Is nature vengeful in your country? Here you need to take particularly care when writing about snow and ice. I have clearly blogged too flippantly about it. On leaving work yesterday I found The Winter God, obviously standing on the roof above, had thrown icicle spears at the windscreen of my car and smashed it. Alas, no picture of the cracks. Much too busy getting away glancing nervously over my shoulder for more.

This made me ponder the power of deity. My slightly blasphemous hypothesis which I offer to you, is that The Winter God is also responsible for the financial/economic crisis. The almost perfect correlation between the depth of snow and the severity of the slump is striking. A causal link is highly probable and as melting sets in you will see that times get better.

If it lingers on, there is good skiing in July.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Transport leg

I had a long tour planned today to get the feel of my new skis only to discover that someone in the store had stepped on them and made a crack. They can't be used and have to be exchanged. Minor setbacks like this cannot be allowed to stop a big expedition though. The roller coaster well prepared 13 km of ski tracks to Kikut where therefore covered on my old planks. Snow conditions were wonderful and there were not too many track-demolishing kid-sleds out to block the way. Hot chocolate with raspberry jam & sour cream waffles made excellent provisions before turning back. Waffles like these could well have been Amundsen's secret weapon to beat Scott.

I still have not got the Omnia HD which I was hoping Samsung would issue me with. I'm therefore turning to Olympus for a picture of an old snow covered Ent - here captured with a 10mp Mju1030SE.


On the way I also came by this group of Hobbits tenting in the snow. They are shy so I could go no closer and hence the slightly pixellated photo.

Imagine, these creatures spend their entire weekend in the snow. But then, with their excessively hairy feet they don't mind basking in it despite night temperatures below minus 10C. I guess they don't miss broadband either.

Sunday means that stock markets don't fall and businesses don't go bust. For all we know the economy may be recovering already but Monday may prove that wrong.

Some countries have been through this before. The British PM John Major lunched with president Yeltsin during a visit to Moscow and asked him to characterize in one word the state of the Russian economy. "Good", Yeltsin said. "And if you should use two words?" Major asked. "Not good" Yeltsin replied.

See you on Monday.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Roofavalanches.no

Day temperatures have gone up which means that ice and snow comes down. Enjoying the sunshine on pavements in central Oslo is risky business. Only yesterday a man was injured by a “roof avalanche”. The fall of icicles, ice blocks and blood on not so white snow are first signs of spring in this part of the world. Snowdrops, which my mother on the west coast reports are in full flower, have still a month to go, - and megatons of ploughed up street snow is waiting to be dumped in the fjord.

The financial winter seems to drag on even longer. Tight credit, foreclosures, unemployment, less spending, less production, equity markets in free fall, sliding house prices, even more foreclosures. Maybe the surplus countries like China, Japan and Norway whos' Central Banks put all this money into the greedy hands in the first place have a special responsibility to end it. - If only they knew how.

That probably leaves us with relying on Barrack Obama’s bold rearrangement of the US economy. Personally I trust in the lyrics: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

It may get much worse before it gets better. The oil price is now below break even for development of most new offshore fields and a hard rain's gonna fall.

The end is nigh and global warming is coming - not yet though.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Still snowing



Some pictures of winter in the suburbs - and in the woods taken with my SE P1i phone camera.
Crap quality but you get the drift?

I must admit to a certain beauty even though I have to dig myself through a cement like variety of the stuff every morning after the plough has gone by.

Last night the outside air temperature rose above zero and we were woken up by the sound of a firehose being pointed at the bedroom wall. Water cascaded from a rift under the outdoor tap. Some idiot had forgotten to empty it last autumn and water wants much more space sideways when frozen to 15 C below zero. Now we will have to face the plumber who - judging from his price quote - is probably not much bothered by the effects of the economic slump.

You need to get on top of the Norwegian winter or it will bury you!

Skiing is still great.

The Omnia HD on YouTube.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Snow, Mobile Phones and Jazz

Oslo is snowing under big time. Cars can hardly navigate the streets and pavements are closed because of the meter long icicle stalactites pointing down from roof edges above. For the time being tough winter weather has distracted attention from the ailing economy. Anyway, we believe ourselves insulated here. With huge funds (most of it in shares) amassed from petroleum incomes and with oil and gas production still paying off. For how long? Long enough we hope to bridge the abyss. Long enough for Obama and Gordon to restore credit, employment and consumer confidence.

In the meantime we bask in knee-deep snow and take pleasure in skiing, sauna, fireplace cuddles and - gawking at the technological wonders of the Barcelona mobile fair. I admit to being a borderline tech geek. I could not go there but have followed the event closely on the web. Nokia, LG and Samsung all had great releases this year - above all perhaps Samsung. Both the Ultra Touch and the Omnia HD seem to be gems. I simply cannot wait to lay my hands on the latter. It promises everything an addict could wish for.

Nerdy? Well, we can't deny we have become very dependent on these little gadgets. Mobiles, GPS, MP3-players, video players, game boxes, digital cameras, tv, radio, notebooks. For better or worse they are being integrated in an ever bigger part of our lives. When I grew up not so long ago the components of the Omnia would have filled our living room. I am happy that at least and last they are merging into a box small enough to slip into my trousers pocket.

I hope there is time for some cross country skiing before supper and perhaps a Oslo By-larm festival concert afterwards. Lots of great music.

I'll be back with crises, gadgets and the snow situation, but need to get my winter pictures sorted out first.